Fairport Fish Hatchery
The Fairport Fish Hatchery is a warm-water extensive culture station located on the Mississippi River near Muscatine. Eighteen ponds are used to hatch and raise warm-water angling favorites such as largemouth bass and bluegill. Adult largemouth bass are kept at the hatchery year-around. These fish are referred to as brood stock and are placed in ponds for spawning. When the ponds are drained, the fish are gathered and transferred to the holding house for sorting before being transported to lakes. In addition to largemouth bass and bluegill, the facility produces walleye's for stocking in Iowa's interior rivers.
The Fairport Fish Hatchery is located along Iowa Highway 22, eight miles east of Muscatine in Muscatine County. It has a very rich history, serving Iowa's natural resources and its anglers for many years. The facility is located along the scenic upper Mississippi River valley. The land where the hatchery is located was donated to the federal government by the Association of Button Manufacturers. It was established as a biological station by Congress in 1908.
The station was set up for freshwater mussel research and propagation, which was of economic importance to the region at the time. In 1929 the station became a fish hatchery and during the late 1960's the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife spent more than $200,000 renovating and modernizing it. In 1973, the bureau suffered from severe budget cuts and the federal pond stocking program ended. As a result, operation of the Fairport Fish Hatchery was turned over to the Department of Natural Resources. It was an opportunity to add, without cost to Iowa anglers, an excellent, well-managed hatchery to the system. (Source: Iowa DNR)
Muscatine County Historic Preservation Commission contracted in 2021 with Spark Consulting to prepare the NRHP nomination of the entire Fairport Fish Hatchery 60-acre site. Funding for this project was through an HRDP Grant from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.
- History of Fairport Fish Hatchery
- Fairport Biological Station
- Friends of Fairport Fish Hatchery (FFFH)
- Proposed Educational and Informational Pavilion
- Iowa DNR Contacts
- Fairport Fish Hatchery Photos
In 1891, John Boepple developed the freshwater pearl button industry in Muscatine in response to the national demand for buttons to use in the burgeoning garment industry. Muscatine quickly became the center of the pearl button industry, and by 1900 more than 60 button companies or shell blank companies were located in, or near, Muscatine. As a result of the booming pearl button industry, the population of Muscatine doubled from 8,000 to 16,000 between 1880 and 1910. An estimated 11.4 million buttons were manufactured in Muscatine in 1904, and by 1914 that number had increased to an estimated 21.7 million. However, by the turn of the twentieth century, button manufacturers realized mussel beds near Muscatine and elsewhere along the Mississippi River were being depleted. Because of the importance of the button industry to the overall economy of the United States, button manufacturers, the garment industry, scientists, and the federal government agreed that something needed to be done to try and save the button industry from collapse. The consensus of company owners, scientists, and government was to increase mussel propagation.
In 1908, an act of Congress established the Fairport Biological Station. Sixty acres of land was purchased next to Fairport (about 8 miles upriver from Muscatine) by local button manufacturers and then given to the federal government. Th is location was selected because it was adjacent to the river, the railroad tracks, a highway, and Muscatine. In exchange for the land, the government agreed to build a biological research station. The purpose of the station was to increase propagation of pearly mussels, cultivate fish, and conduct biological research on problems related to mussels, fish, and fishery conditions. Construction of the Fairport Biological Station began in 1910, and it opened with the use of temporary facilities later in that same year. Construction was completed in 1914, and the official grand opening occurred in June 1914. A key component of the station, along with the Main Laboratory and the fishponds, was the Pumphouse/Boiler Room (hereafter referred to as the Pumphouse). The Pumphouse not only provided fresh river water to the laboratory and fishponds for mussel propagation and experiments, but it also provided potable river water to the living quarters at the station as well as the laboratory and other buildings.
The Friends of Fairport Fish Hatchery was formed in 2020 to identify and protect the historic resources on the hatchery property which is currently under the auspices of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The goals of FFFH are to educate the public about mussel propagation and the pearl button industry; to preserve the history of the Fairport Fish Hatchery; to inform the public of the adverse effects of pollution and over exploitation on the mussel population and water quality; and to promote eco-tourism to the hatchery and the future satellite museum of the NPBM. Specifically, the educational, research, and preservation activities pursued by the FFFH will include, but are not limited to, (1) construct an educational and informational pavilion; (2) prepare a National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) District nomination of the Fairport Fish Hatchery for the entire 60-acre facility; (3) develop and construct interpretive trails (with signage and photographs), artifact displays, and interactive exhibits, to educate the public on the history of the hatchery and its operations, mussel propagation riverine ecosystems, and ties between the hatchery and the pearl button industry; (4) conduct scientific studies at the hatchery and encourage Mussels of Muscatine to pursue mussel propagation at the hatchery to assist in improving water quality in the Mississippi River; and (5) promote historical education and eco-tourism at the hatchery and the Pearl Button Museum, and also enhance eco-tourism in Muscatine County.
One additional important aspect of FFFH relates to improved water quality in the Mississippi River. Mussels, in addition to producing shell worthy of beautiful pearl buttons, also act as filtering agents purifying the water that passes through their digestive systems. Consideration of the overall effectiveness of the mussel population on a large stream of water such as the Mississippi River was the basis of the recently formed group, Mussels of Muscatine. Renewed interest in mussel propagation, such as was the original function of the Fairport Biologic Station, may again be in the offering, and FFFH is in full support of such efforts.
In the fall of 2019, the Iowa DNR determined that the Fairport Fish Hatchery pump station had to be demolished because it was in the floodway of the river, and thus posed an imminent danger. In an effort to save the building from demolition, the NPBM, MCHPC, and other concerned citizens nominated the Pumphouse to the Iowa SHPO as one of Iowa’s 10 most endangered historic buildings. In the winter of 2019, Iowa SHPO listed the Pumphouse as Iowa’s number 1 most endangered building. As a result, DNR held a meeting with concerned citizens in March 2020 to discuss options for preserving and/or moving the Pumphouse. In the summer of 2020, the FFFH, MCHPC, NPBM, and other interested parties recognized the amount of funding needed ($600,000 or more) to stabilize and subsequently move the Pumphouse out of the floodway was not achievable. The above organizations continued discussions throughout the fall and winter of 2020 with Iowa DNR and SHPO to reach agreement on appropriate mitigation measures to partially compensate for the loss of the historically significant Pumphouse.
To achieve the mitigation goals, FFFH intends to construct an educational pavilion at the hatchery as well as develop two interpretive trails. FFFH intends to construct a 22’ x 18’ educational pavilion near Highway 22 and the main entrance between the reservoir and the barn. The Friends group desires to construct the pavilion in a manner, style, and design that commemorates the National Register eligible brick pumphouse that was demolished in August 2021. To that end, the intention is to build a similar looking brick structure, one which will incorporate the same decorative sandstone blocks that adorned the original pumphouse.
The interior of the educational pavilion will consist of 12 3’x4’ informational panels (some equipped with QR codes), two artifact display cases, a 6’ timeline, and rotating exhibits. Some of the panels within the pavilion will focus on mussel/fish relationships, how they contribute to a healthy aquatic ecosystem, and how other factors (e.g., lock and dams, pollution, and overharvesting) affected that relationship and simultaneously degraded water quality throughout the Upper Mississippi River basin. Other panels will focus on the history of the biological station (1910-1933), the history of the hatchery (1933-1974 and 1974 to present), and lastly, other panels will discuss the ties to the pearl button industry, the impact of this industry on the state and national economy, and how changes in dresswear affected the rise and fall of the freshwater pearl button industry.
As noted, there will be two interpretive trails at the hatchery: one north of Highway 22 through the former living quarters (North Trail) and one south of Highway 22 through the operations part of the hatchery (South Trail). The two interpretive trails will consist of 24 informational signs (12 signs per trail, some with QR codes) to provide visitors with additional information on the function of a particular building or resource.
In June of 2021, FFFH was awarded a Resource Enhancement and Protection-Conservation Education Program (REAP-CEP) grant for signage for educational panels and interpretive trail signs at the hatchery. Not only does the REAP-CEP grant include the costs of the panels and signs, but it also includes money for QR code specialist, audio/video specialist and narrator, the display cases, the timeline, electricity at the pavilion, and security cameras. The award amount is $47,368, with an additional $40,144 of in-kind services for a total amount of $87, 512. The interpretive signs and educational panels for the pavilion will be completed by December 2022.